Tech //

Virtual reality blows minds – and the bank

A whole new world, shining shimmering splendours, discovers Jeff Wong.


Imagine if you could walk along the ocean floor, or maybe the surface of the moon. Perhaps you’ve fantasised about actually inhabiting the fantasy worlds you know in films or books, or re-living pivotal moments in human history. If you haven’t, then I’m sorry but this relationship just isn’t going to work out. But if you have then I think I’ve got just the thing for you.

Oculus Rift is an impressive virtual-reality headset, initially a project funded through Kickstarter to bring a never before seen level of immersion to video games and other interactive media. The Oculus Riftallows the user to explore with full 360 degree vision, and can accurately and comfortably follow all three dimensions of head movement. It’s a truly revolutionary way to experience media.

Oculus Rift has the biggest implications for the video game industry. By introducing such a high level of fidelity, immersive-ness, and responsiveness to the player, a whole new genre of games are possible. Combined with a high quality set of headphones and virtual treadmill such as the Virtuix Omni, the device can fully simulate the fully exploration of fantasy worlds.

But for many (some disheartened) people the biggest news in Oculus Rift’s short history would be the Facebook buyout. On March 26, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had acquired Oculus VR, “the leader in virtual reality technology”. The reaction from much of the tech sphere has been negative. Despite the huge cash injection Facebook have provided (the acquisition was valued at $2 billion) there are concerns the new owners will steer the Oculus Rift away from the direction of video games, one of the applications with the most enthusiasm around it. Markus “Notch” Persson, the Swedish developer behind Minecraft, announced that plans for an Oculus Rift compatible Minecraft had been cancelled, stating, “I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.”

There may still be hope for video-game fans. Zuckerberg, in his statement on the acquisition, said that “immersive gaming will be first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community … Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.” By bringing the Oculus Rift into the eye of public media, Facebook has definitely drawn the world’s interest and intrigue to the frontier of virtual reality.

What once seemed firmly in the realm of science fiction is now real. A powerful 360 degree camera, sitting in the front rows of a stadium in Brazil as the World Cup Final plays out, could allow millions of people to tap in and experience the event as if they were really there. Space shuttles and rovers equipped with such cameras would allow Oculus Rift users to peer into space, into the crevices on Mars, or beyond the furthest stars. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of technology, and now that Oculus Rift has found a foothold in the industry, it has the chance to open all these doors and more.

From humble beginnings on Kickstarter, to a platform on the world stage, the Oculus Rift has the potential to change a lot more than video games. The possibilities are endless, and minds will be blown.